Listen to your house, it’s got a lot to say.

 

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The passivity of waiting for the ‘right’ house to come on the market has, quite frankly, been doing my head in, so I quickly realised I’d feel a whole lot better if we were taking positive action in other areas. Thus over the last week or so, we’ve been doing a second KonMari pass through the house and its contents, and all the ‘non-joy-sparkers’ are leaving the building.  It’s amazing just how much has left the house despite us having maintained our KM mindset pretty well over the last couple of years.  Having a small child means there are lots of things that get out grown so that’s been one source of discards (I find the Little Chap’s things the hardest to part with).  Also just revisiting the things that made the cut the first time round and realising we’ve not used them, or they didn’t ‘spark joy’ after all has meant a further cull of certain categories.  It’s felt GOOD!

It’s no secret that for us the KonMari method, just as the title of the book asserts, has been ‘life-changing’.  The simple act of tuning in to decipher whether an object sparks joy or not, has been illuminating and transformative.  BUT just the other day a friend and blogger steered me in the direction of another great touchstone.  She recently invited me to join a Facebook group created for readers of the book ‘Goodbye, Things’ by Fumio Sasaki.  A Japanese minimalist, he takes minimalism to a whole new level (too far for me personally) but my friend Maria posted a quote from the book, which I’ve not been able to stop thinking about…

“Things don’t just sit there. They send us silent messages. And the more the item has been neglected, the stronger its message will be.”

Ever since reading this I’ve found myself really listening to what our things / our house is saying and do you know what, Fumio’s bloody right.  If you actually stop to ‘listen’ there is a cacophony going on.  To give you an idea, here are just some of the messages I’ve been hearing:

Small composting bin in the kitchen: “Thanks for changing my bag but don’t just ignore that bit of onion skin stuck to some gak in the bottom, or that bit of bean-juice mould developing on the underside of my lid, that just lazy and a bit gross even if no-one else will see.  Give me a wash and stick me in the sunshine to dry.  You’ll feel much better if you do that.”

Our mop: “Yes I looked like a good design when you bought me but the reality is I flip over every time you mop with even a modicum of enthusiasm which drives you mad and makes you less inclined to mop the floor.   Buy a better mop, the floor needs more mop time.”

Orange enamel coffee pot: “I’m a joy sparker.  My orangeyness makes you feel happy and reminds you of birthday teas where your lovely mum served coffee from me.  You’ve also discovered I look good holding a bunch of daffs.  I’m a keeper.”

Black rubber pad from the bottom of my laptop: “All I needed was a small blob of superglue and I’d be back where I belong, rather than on your bedside table mumbling away EVERY TIME you looked in my direction.  And see! Don’t you feel so much better now you’ve glued me back on and I’ve stopped nagging?  It took less than a minute but I bugged you for way more than that over the weeks.  You won’t leave it so long next time will you?!”

A chair I inherited from my mum: “You’re really only keeping me because your mum loved me, but we both know you don’t love me enough to take care of my prolapsed undercarriage nor dress me up in anything fancier than the dull green velvet(ish) fabric I’ve been wearing for the last 40 years.  I also know your head has been turned by the Ikea Benarp chair in Skiftebo orange. Go get her, with my blessing. And hey, perhaps your brother will want me??  But, seriously it’s okay if he doesn’t.  I’ll be fine. Really.  No I will. Don’t feel bad about getting rid of something your mum loved. Sob.”

Assortment of vitamins and supplement bottles: “We just wanted to thank you for corralling us all into a plastic box the other day.  We will now stop haranguing you each time you open the cupboard now that we’re not strewn all over the place.  You won’t hear a further peep from us.  Peace out.”

So you get the drift.  It’s not about setting unrealistic expectations of ourselves to live in show homes (hahahahahaha ROFLs x a trazillion), the messages I’ve described come from my own standards, not anyone else’s.  They want the best for me.  It’s that same voice that tells me to go to the gym, it really has my best intentions at heart even if I don’t always want to hear it.  What I’ve found without fail, is once I’ve heard the message and taken care of the item, it quietens down completely and there’s a greater sense of peace.  I highly recommend it.  It’s also fine to hear the message but decide you don’t want to take care of it right now; by listening and deciding it becomes a conscious choice rather than an avoidance, which again brings its own sense of peace.

So have a listen, and find out what your house is saying to you.  I’d love to hear.

Emerging

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This winter has been a real struggle, rounds of winter bugs, followed by bone deep tiredness and lethargy; I fractured my arm just before the snow hit and I didn’t set foot outside for seven days straight.  The slings and arrows of the darker months felt pretty relentless and I confess to feeling sorry for myself at times.  That said, the practice of mindfulness really helped prevent me from entertaining those unskilful thoughts for too long, and for that I am grateful.

In the midst of all the crap a truly unexpected new life-path opened up for us, we found a heart-soaringly lovely, Buddhist-ethos school for the Little Chap in Brighton.  We went along for their open day at the end of January with open minds and with much curiosity and, honestly, the minute we walked through the gate it was like falling in love at first sight.  I spent the entire assembly (Puja) choked up with emotion as I saw staff and students reflecting back at me many of the things I feel passionately about and desperately want to see prioritised more in schools: compassion, kindness, mindfulness, love, empathy, individuality, creativity, affection, gratitude, embracing of difference.  I could see it’s a place where children are respected and heard, and where individuality is celebrated, and lovingly supported.  Mindfulness meditation is part of the each school day which we both think is such a great tool to give children from a very young age.

Over the years we’ve thought long and hard about home educating and, as the deadline approached for state school applications we also looked at a couple of popular local schools, both of which no doubt would have been fine…but that was the problem for me, ‘fine’ didn’t sit right.  The Dharma School fills us with excitement, and feels like a great fit for our particular family; just as those two local schools will no doubt fit for those families that choose them. (I’ve found that sometimes when one makes a ‘different’ choice to the norm, some people can see it as a judgment on the validity of their choices.  It isn’t.  In the words of comedian Amy Poehler ‘good for you, not for me’.

For a long time we’ve been considering moving to a new area that suits us better but when there isn’t a particular pull to a new area you’re left with pretty much sticking a pin in a map which didn’t feel right.  This plan came about through several strands coming together.

Last summer we’d had a really magical camping trip with family and friends in the South Downs and had loved the landscape and the nearest town of Lewes.  Alongside, I’d also been researching independent schools and had found a very cool one in South Devon.  Loved the school, didn’t love the distance it would create between our friends and families so dismissed it.  I’d also had a hankering to be nearer the sea and we felt we wanted to find a community that leaned more towards the arts and creativity, a little more bohemian than where we live currently.  Finding this wonderful school in Brighton brought everything together: a reason to relocate to this beautiful part of the world and a short enough drive to remain connected to the people we love.  There is a creativity and an open-mindedness to the people of Brighton which appeals too.

We’ve chosen to look for a house in a village just north of Brighton, this feels like a great option, closer to family than central Brighton would be but still with easy access to the city and all it offers…but far enough out to be able to afford a property that will work for us as a family.  The drive to the school is very reasonable and there seems to be a warm and welcoming village community.

There have certainly been some pangs of sadness at the inevitable loss that always accompanies change, I will miss being a stone’s throw from my local friends and the biggest wrench will be being further away from our nieces who are the Little Chap’s best buddies BUT I am confident that we can make up for it by spending quality weekends together, either us visiting them or having them come to us, where we can adventure through our new area with fun times at the beach, walks and picnics in the rolling South Downs, exploring Brighton and its restaurants together etc. Where there is love there’s a way!

We’ve yet to find a house, we’ll be downsizing – something that we’ve been wanting to do for some time – and we’re really excited about creating a home that is smaller in footprint but greater in functionality.  We hope to move by the beginning of August to give us time to settle a little before school starts (a bit of a tight deadline!) but rather than panic I’m trusting that the right house will present itself at the right time.  Pretty sure that’s how it works.

I came up with the name ‘Operation Bloom’ as it described a feeling I had about being on the edge of big change and growth, this next move feels like the manifestation of that very thing and I can’t wait to see what unfolds…

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Header photo copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_tomertu’>tomertu / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Slow Progress is Better than No Progress

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Since writing my last post, and reflecting on how I’d finally managed to break down a gargantuan task into smaller actions, I’ve gotten myself a new mantra: ‘slow progress is better than no progress’.  I realise this is already a well worn adage, but these past couple of weeks I’ve found this phrase SO surprisingly motivating.

I can be a bit ‘all or nothing’ and will get waves of productivity which I ride enthusiastically until they ebb and I jump out the water for a lie down.  With my new mantra I’m finding it easier to paddle in the shallows until the next wave of energy hits,  thus retaining some momentum.

Remaining gently active changes my psychology completely.  Where there would ordinarily be stultifying procrastination, there now remains an energetic flow. This is so much better for the soul.  It’s like keeping myself limbered up so it’s not such a shock  to the system when I need to really kick ass on a task.

Recently Vince was working hard on a literary competition submission and for two weeks I was picking up as much of the slack as I could to give him maximum writing time.  Ordinarily this would have meant I lapsed on some of my stuff, thinking along the lines of ‘there isn’t enough time for me to give those things my full attention so might as well ignore them for a bit’. This time however I kept my stuff ticking along.

To give you an example, I noted that since joining the gym a couple of months ago, I was struggling to commit to my former >30 mins of yoga every day.  So for a short while I was skipping the yoga or doing it sporadically or squeezing it in at the end of the day.  By applying my ‘slow progress’ mantra I’m now just doing 10 minutes of yoga on my non gym days and I’m finding that far easier to commit to.  Yes it’s less than I was doing at my peak, but I wasn’t going to the gym for three hours a week then.  10 minutes is better than no minutes, and I’m maintaining a positive connection with the mat.  I’m seeing these 10 minutes as my gateway into longer sessions in the future when time allows.

What has been interesting to note is how what I’ve been learning about mindfulness meditation has informed the decision to scale back the yoga.  The lovely Joseph Goldstein talks about how it’s okay to have aspirations, the problem comes when we hold on to expectations.  I aspire to exercise at least 6 out of 7 days of the week, but I’d set an expectation that I needed to do at least 30 minutes of yoga every day when I wasn’t at the gym.  As I noted my resistance and tuned in to what my intuition was telling me, I realised that 10 minutes of yoga a day felt just right, for now.  I’d removed the struggle (dropped the expectation) and it’s become a pleasure once again.  There’s a whole lot to be said for tuning in to the authentic flow of what feels good and discovering which actions sit just right, rather than forcibly implementing an expectation.

Likewise with Item #1 on my Mr Worry List: my big mountainous ‘glob’ of a project (complex property reconfiguring), I’ve found that by releasing myself from the expectation that I need to tackle it as a whole or have a final solution mapped out before I take any action, I’m really enjoying focusing on the first couple of steps. Modifying my approach by making sure that even when I’m too busy to tend to something fully,  I still move things forward a little, has been a breakthrough for me.  Knowing the pot is simmering gently on the back burner stops it from becoming something oppressive and heavy hanging over my head.  It maintains some life, lightness and forward energy.

I can be impatient, once I have an idea I want to make it happen NOW, but in the last couple of weeks I’m discovering there’s a quiet joy to be had from inching along and letting ‘now’ take it’s time to arrive.  There is beauty in the process and it seems a shame not to enjoy that part of the ride.

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Photograph copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_juhku’>juhku / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

The Mr. Worry List

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A couple of weeks ago during our pre-bedtime wind down, the Little Chap and I were curled up together reading my old Mr. Men books, many of which I’d not read since I was a kid.  We came upon ‘Mr. Worry’ which, for the uninitiated, is a woeful tale of a round, blue man riddled with anxiety about everything you could think of (assuming a rise in global terrorism and a decline in our ice caps aren’t in your purview).  A truly troubled soul was poor Mr. Worry, and as we read I kept everything crossed for an upturn in his mental wellbeing.

Not to be disappointed, [SPOILER ALERT], he meets a kindly wizard who tells him to write down every single worry he has.  Mr. Worry is to then bring him the list so he can weave some Mr. Men magic and ensure none of those things ever happen.  The next day Mr. Worry turns up at the wizard’s house with a long snaking list of all his penned worries.

With bedtime successfully implemented, followed by a lightning fast costume change into my jim-jams, I got to thinking about the story and it occurred to me that, just like Mr. Worry, there were a few things on my mind; things that had been kinda keeping me awake at night or generating a low hum of anxiety during the day.  So I decided to put pen to paper and make my own ‘Mr. Worry List’.

I wrote down eleven things.  And do you know what?  I instantly felt better, even in my wizardless state.  My initial observation was to note they were all pretty benign things and I took a moment to gratefully acknowledge that I was lucky to have such an innocuous list.

Nine of the eleven things simply required some effort and graft on my part to reach a resolution.  These were practical tasks, with tangible solutions, such as the creation of a new spreadsheet before I could tackle my business accounts, booking an oven cleaner as clearly I couldn’t face doing it myself, making a technical call to sort out a tenant dispute.  Slightly tiresome and certainly dull jobs but totally fixable and really nothing to lose sleep about.

Only two of the eleven things were trickier and more daunting (in terms of finding solutions that is, certainly none were of life and death importance).  And even looking at the two tricky things, I realised one of them could actually be broken down into a series of smaller practical steps (albeit lots of them, probably over a good number of months) but it could, in essence, join the ranks of the other nine practical tasks.  Until I’d actually written this particular worry down, I’d just seen it as a huge, complicated mess that would fry my brain every time I tried to think about it.  Writing it down was key to breaking that negative cycle. It just shifted something. Helped me get my pragmatic on.

It’s so strange how many of us can worry about unattended tasks and allow them to become shapeless, gelatinous globs of anxiety.  It’s only when we face them head on, one at a time, that their form becomes clear again and the unease lessens as we see a way forward.

So my friends, I urge you to take a quiet moment to write down your own Mr. Worry list, get it out of your head and onto paper and I’ll bet you’ll feel a hundred times better just having a clearer perspective and getting back in the driving seat.  If your list feels overwhelming (hell, Mr.Worry used a whole roll of till receipt paper), tackle one of the easier items on the list first to help gather some motivation; there’s nothing quite like ticking things off for gathering momentum.  Or see if any of them can be broken down into smaller, more manageable actions, this has made ALL the difference for me.

I’d love to hear how you get on; what insights you glean from the process.  There may not be a kindly wizard offering to take care of all our worries, but facing our fears and taking positive action has got to be a close second?  I think there’s a special kind of magic in that.

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Header Image: Copyright Roger Hargreaves 1978